ECU’s cybersecurity program recognized again by National Security Agency

Ignoring a phishing email is one thing. Protecting the multiple computer networks and servers of major businesses or governmental agencies requires far more expertise.

The Department of Technology Systems at East Carolina University is training the next generation of cyber sleuths through its cybersecurity concentration in the Information and Cybersecurity Technology (ICT) program and online programs.

Information and computer technology students Vadim Komshin, left, and Reyland Howard work in the Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center.

The National Security Agency recently redesignated ECU as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (NCAE-CD), a designation the university has had since 2005.

“(This) means that the institution meets the desired characteristics of a NCAE-CD institution, and the academic program is capable of delivering high quality education to foster the qualified cybersecurity workforce needed by the nation,” said Dr. Te-Shun Chou, professor in the Department of Technology Systems.

Chou said the designation is a strong recruiting tool in helping fill the large need for cybersecurity experts.

“A huge number of cyberattacks occur on a daily basis in this fast-evolving technological world, with cybercrime becoming the greatest threat to individuals, private industries and government agencies,” he said. “It has become increasingly urgent to strengthen cybersecurity education and foster well-trained cybersecurity professionals in order to protect our citizens, businesses and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.”

He said the designation has helped ECU become a top program for students as well as a top destination for companies looking for cybersecurity engineers, analysts and consultants. The Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center, which opened in 2019 with a $225,000 of grant support from the National Security Agency, serves as a hub for the roughly 100 graduate and 500 undergraduate students in ECU’s ICT program.

“Significant investments made by the university, college, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense have led to the creation of a very robust program and cutting-edge facilities for student learning,” Chou said. “Our students gain in-depth knowledge of cybersecurity through a myriad of courses and hands-on experiences in our state-of-the-art internetworking and cybersecurity labs. Students learn how to design, deploy, secure, simulate, attack and defend, and manage complex and heterogeneous systems and networks. They also learn techniques to conduct proper investigations of unauthorized intrusions, respond to intrusion incidents, apply regulatory processes and report situations involving cyberattacks. These theoretical and hands-on experiences help prepare our students with the appropriate skills needed for success and leadership in the field of cybersecurity and information assurance.”

Honors College student Collin Roach said his decision to attend ECU for cybersecurity was an easy one.

“The original reason I came to ECU is because of the staff. And what is going to keep me here at ECU for my master’s program is the staff I’ve been working with,” said Roach, who will get his undergraduate degree in May. “I find that the professors here are highly passionate about cybersecurity. Dr. (Tijjani) Mohammed, Dr. (Ciprian) Popoviciu, Dr. (Charles) Lesko — they are the people I want to keep learning from. It’s what keeps me here at ECU. I really like learning from them.”

Students work in the Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center lab.

Roach took over as the head of ECU’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team, saying it adds to the experience cybersecurity students can get at ECU.

“I like how hands-on our major is and all of the new technologies we get to learn and talk about,” he said. “The Cisco classes I found very exciting, and I also like how a lot of the classes we have our aligned with certifications. I have my CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and my Security+, and I like how those were tailored toward classes and that I was able to get them. It makes me really marketable to companies, and I really like that. I like how the internship is a requirement, and I like how the capstone makes us do and solve certain challenges.”

Though he doesn’t graduate until May, Roach already has a job lined up with Pendo, a software company in Raleigh. As part of the accelerated master’s program, he’ll continue with his education and will earn his master’s in network technology with a concentration in cybersecurity in just another year.

“The biggest thing, in the upper-level classes, I’ve done a lot of fun stuff,” he said. “We get a research dive into it, and I really enjoy doing that. There’s a new class, cybersecurity infrastructure, and that’s an excellent class. I loved hearing from the instructor and his experiences.”

Chou said application process for NCAE-CD reaccreditation involved support from many people and entities. Those helping included the office of Provost Dr. Robin Coger, College of Engineering and Technology Dean Dr. Harry Ploehn, the registrar’s office, the Raleigh chapter of the Information System Security Association, ECU’s ICT advisory board, advisers in the college’s Student Success Center, the university’s Information Technology and Computing Service, Dr. Biwu Yang, who led the original NCAE-CD designation, and ICT and other faculty members in the departments of technology systems and computer science.

“The NCAE-CD program officers were very impressed by the diversity of cybersecurity-related courses offered to ECU students and the cybersecurity services that ECU has provided to regional communities,” Chou said. “We are very thankful to the NSA for the designation as a Cybersecurity Center of Academic Excellence and for the capacity-building support that led to the creation of our state-of-the art cybersecurity lab code-named the ‘Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center.’ It is support like this that makes it possible for us to deliver high-quality programs to both on campus and distance education students, particularly military affiliated students, to help create the next generation workforce of cybersecurity professionals.”